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Astros vs. Nationals World Series Game 1 Betting Odds, Picks & Preview: Will Scherzer Keep Up With Cole?

Astros vs. Nationals World Series Game 1 Betting Odds, Picks & Preview: Will Scherzer Keep Up With Cole? article feature image

Brad Mills, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Max Scherzer

  • The Astros are -195 favorites over the Nationals in Game 1 of the World Series.
  • The Over/Under is set at just 6.5 runs, so expect a pitchers' duel between Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer.
  • Sean Zerillo previews the game and shares his favorite bet for Washington at Houston:

Astros vs. Nationals Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions for World Series Game 1

Probable starters: Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA)

  • Nationals odds: +175
  • Astros odds:  -195
  • Over/Under:  6.5
  • First pitch:  8:08 p.m. ET on FOX

Odds as of Tuesday evening and via PointsBet, where Action Network users get an exclusive 200% deposit match (deposit $50, bet with $150).

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals will meet in the 115th edition of the World Series, beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 22, in Houston.

This is the Astros’ third World Series appearance, including their 2017 championship, while the Nats are playing in the Fall Classic for the first time.

The AL West champion Astros won an MLB-best 107 games before eliminating the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in the playoffs.

The NL Wild Card winning Nationals won 93 games despite ending May with a 24-33 record. They went 69-36 (65.7%) from June through September to clinch a playoff spot, upending the Brewers and Dodgers late in separate elimination games before sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Washington has perhaps the only team in rotation in baseball who can match up with Houston’s pitching in a seven-game series; as the teams will battle with All-Star caliber pitchers in Games 1-3 and, if necessary, 5-7.

Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole led their respective leagues in xFIP this year.

Can the Nats do what few other teams have done in 2019 and defeat Cole, who posted a 15-0 record with a 1.73 ERA from June through September, before allowing one run over 22.2 playoff innings?

The Starters

After allowing two home runs in the first two innings of the NL Wild Card game, Max Scherzer has settled into the 2019 playoffs – allowing one run over his past 18 innings, with seven walks against 25 strikeouts.

Scherzer missed some time in July and August with back and shoulder injuries, and he returned to post a 4.75 ERA (3.05 FIP) over his final seven starts.

He showed reduced pitch velocity (down about one mph) in August after returning from those injuries but has seen an increase towards midseason levels in October.

His playoff velocity uptick, and back-to-back dominant performances over the Dodgers and Cardinals reduces concerns that Scherzer might be pitching at less than 100% effectiveness.

I have discussed Scherzer on three occasions in this postseason. First, before the NL Wild Card Game, again before Game 4 against the Dodgers, and most recently before Game 2 against the Cardinals.

I have noted the following things about Mad Max:

  • 2019 was potentially his most efficient season ever, posting career-best marks in FIP, xFIP, K-BB%, and swinging-strike rate, albeit in six fewer starts than in 2018.
  • On a per-pitch basis, Scherzer had the sixth-best fastball, and the best slider in MLB this season amongst starting pitchers
  • Scherzer’s rolling HR/FB rate is on the rise, allowing more than two home runs per nine innings after returning from injury.

He has generated 52 swinging strikes on 301 pitches in these playoffs, suitable for a whiff rate of 17.2%, which is higher than his swinging-strike rate this season.

Scherzer was masterful in his most recent outing against the Cardinals, permitting three baserunners against 11 strikeouts over seven shutout innings:

Max Scherzer was on fire in the Nationals' 3-1 win over the Cardinals:

🔥 11 K's
🔥 1 hit
🔥 7.0 IP

Washington up 2-0 in the NLCS.

— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) October 12, 2019

Gerrit Cole led MLB with a 2.48 xFIP this season, while Scherzer led the NL (and was the only starter below 3.00) at 2.88. He looks as close to his peak form as possible right now and is one of a handful of pitchers who can go toe to toe with Cole.

Like Scherzer, I have featured Cole before each of his three playoff starts: before game 3 against the Yankees, and before both Game 5 and Game 3 against the Rays.

Cole was ridiculous in the ALDS, generating 52 swinging strikes in 15.2 innings against Tampa Bay.

He has accomplished the following things in Houston:

  • Eliminated his sinker usage since joining the Astros, partially leading to the uptick in performance
  • Led the American League in FIP (2.68), xFIP (2.48), WAR (7.4) and strikeouts (326) in 2019
  • Led MLB starters in 2019 with a 16.8% swinging-strike rate, and a 49.1% contact rate on pitches outside of the zone
  • Owns the second-fastest fastball in MLB, which was the most valuable pitch of the 2019 season

It’s not hard to see the cumulative effect that the changes have had on his overall profile, turning Cole into the best pitcher in baseball as he heads into free agency:

He walked five batters against the Yankees, his first time walking more than three batters since Sept. 12, 2018.

But it’s worth noting that the Nationals have a lower strikeout rate (20.9%, 5th) than either the Yankees (23%, 12th) or Rays (23.8%, 21st).

Their whiff rate (9.5%) was also the third-best in baseball – behind the league-leading Astros (8.6%), so this features a battle between high-strikeout hurlers and a pair of offenses that each led their respective leagues at avoiding whiff.

Unstoppable force meets immovable object.

The Bullpens

On the season, the Astros bullpen ranks 11th in FIP, first in xFIP, and first in K-BB%. By the same metrics, the Nationals rank 26th, 29th, and 23rd.

Both bullpens have struggled to an extent in the playoffs, though the Nationals’ ERA would look much better absent a six-run shellacking suffered by Patrick Corbin in Game 3 of the NLDS:

However, the Nats have also benefited from four combined shutout innings of quality relief from Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg

Scherzer, Corbin and Strasburg are responsible for 55 of the Nationals 90 playoff innings pitched (61.1%).

Similarly, Cole, Verlander and Zack Greinke are responsible for 61 of the 98 innings (62.2%) thrown by Astros pitchers in these playoffs.

If the Astros can get into the Nationals’ bullpen frequently, as no other team has done so far in the playoffs, they can exploit a significant edge in the World Series.

The Nationals bullpen had both the worst regular-season ERA (5.68) and most losses (33) of any postseason team ever.

They have primarily turned to Daniel Hudson (six appearances), Sean Doolittle (six appearances), and Tanner Rainey (five appearances) in the postseason.

The trio posted respective xFIP marks of 5.08, 5.08, and 3.91 during the 2019 season – and they are Washington’s best options.

In terms of projected ERA for the World Series, I show the Astros bullpen (3.65) as more than three-quarters of a run better than the Nationals bullpen (4.42).

Other than Corbin’s rough NLDS outing, the Nats bullpen has patched wins together in the playoffs – but they are also overdue for a blowup in a big spot; like the ones that they benefited from against the Brewers and Dodgers.

For the Astros, Roberto Osuna (3.60 xFIP) will need to bounce back after blowing a save in the ninth inning of Game 6 against the Yankees.

Projected Lineups

Data per FantasyLabs

Umpire and Weather Report

Data per Sports Insights

The last time that the Astros played a playoff game at home with the roof open was in 2005, and the dome will be closed again on Tuesday night.

Minute Maid Park is the most profitable park for unders in our database at 629-553-58 (53.2%), generating +$4,799 for a consistent $100 bettor.

Unders are 13-14-2 at Minute Maid Park in the postseason.

Alan Porter will be the home plate umpire for Game 1. He has been an MLB umpire since 2010, and this is his fourth postseason game behind the dish.

Unders are 3-0-1 in those contests, but 130-135-7 (49.1%) in Porter’s career including the regular season.

Visiting underdogs are 70-97 (41.9%) with Porter as the plate umpire, his only profitable trend (+$123 for a consistent $100 bettor) regarding sides.

Trends to Know

The American League owns a 66-48 head to head record against the National League in the World Series.

Home teams are 44-33 (57.1%) in World Series Games since 2005. Home favorites are 35-21 (62.5%), while home underdogs are 9-12 (42.8%).

Over the same period, home favorites are 16-3 (84.2%) in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, winning by an average margin of 2.47 runs.

Totals are split down the middle, at 37-37-3 in World Series play, but overs are 9-5 (64.3%) in Game 1 since 2005.

Max Scherzer is 29-38 (43.3%) as a moneyline underdog and 22-26-9 (45.8%) as an F5 underdog. He has only been a bigger underdog in one other game, listed at +185 on April 29, 2012.

Series Moneyline Corner

I projected the Astros as a -186 favorite in the World Series, with an implied win probability of 65%.

At listed odds of +200 (implied 33.3%), I currently see an expected value gap of 1.7% from my projection (+186, implied 35%) on the Nationals to win the World Series.

However, I will move the Astros to a -335 (implied 77%) favorite with a Game 1 win, so you might want to wait until before Game 2 to find the best value on the Nats series price. 

Down 0-1 in the World Series, I would consider betting a number closer to +400 (implied 20%) on Washington, which represents a three percent value gap from my projection (+335, implied 23%).

Before the series starts, I would prefer to place a wager on the exact series result:

You can find the Astros to win the World Series 4-1 at odds of +500 (implied 16.7%), which represents a gap of 1.3% in expected value from my projection at +456 (implied 18%). 

I bet one unit on the Astros to win in five games at +500 and would also look to buy the Nationals’ series price around +400 following a potential Game 1 loss.

Model Projected Odds

Favorite Bets

I projected the Astros as a -151 favorite in this game, and I set the total at 6.7 runs. Therefore, I see actionable value on the Nationals moneyline, but no value on the total. 

At listed odds of +175 (implied 36.4%), I see a 3.5% gap in expected value from my projection at +151 (implied 39.9%).

I would play the Nationals down to +171 (implied 36.9%), a three percent gap in expected value.

Similarly, I would play the Nats on the F5 moneyline and set the cutoff price at +162 (implied 38.2%) – which also represents a three percent gap in expected value from my projection.

I put a half unit on the Nationals’ moneyline in either half and also bet a half unit on the Nats F5 spread (+0.5, +100) which I like at any plus-money price.

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